MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota advanced to the Frozen Four with a 4-3 win over Boston College in a game that had three stages. The Gophers (32-4-3, 23-2-3 WCHA) exploded in the opening ten minutes, cruised for the next 20, and then hung on for dear life.
“Great start obviously to the game,” coach Brad Frost said. “We couldn’t have asked for anything better than that.”
When you’re an underdog playing on the road in the NCAA tournament, you just want to be able to survive the opening minutes of the game and let your players get settled. Because of a couple of early penalties and an offensive burst by Minnesota senior co-captain Gigi Marvin, the Eagles (22-9-5, 13-5-3 HEA) never got that opportunity.
“That was the hope, that we would get through that first ten minutes and kind of pick it up after that,” Eagles’ coach Katie King said. “It is tough when 15 seconds in they call a penalty. That’s a tough thing, especially at an away building, in a building like this where you get such a great crowd and people get into it.”
Marvin scored power-play goals at 48 seconds and 3:15 of the first period, and the Gophers were off and running. On the first, she took a touch pass from Melanie Gagnon, stormed up the right side of the ice, gave Molly Schaus a fake, and flipped the puck into the net on the glove side. Goalie Alyssa Grogan got her first career assist on the play.
On the second tally, Marvin followed up shots by Emily West and Brittany Francis and lobbed the rebound over Schaus.
“I think everyone wanted to win today, and obviously you have to go out and jump out on them, have a fast start,” Marvin said.
Only 80 seconds later, frosh Mary Restuccia pulled BC to within 2-1 when her shot from behind the net found the skate of a Gophers’ defender and a path by Grogan. Allie Thunstrom had the only assist.
“I got lucky,” Restuccia said. “It just shows if you put anything in front, it has a chance of going in.”
In the game’s ninth minute, Minnesota brought the crowd of 1,530 to life twice more. A harmless looking shot by Rachael Drazan eluded Schaus for 3-1; Francis deflected in a pass from Gagnon, and BC was looking at a three-goal deficit.
After racing to their 4-1 lead, the Gophers appeared content to just let the minutes tick by, and 24 of them did.
Then while on a penalty kill, Monique Lamoureux hit Shannon Webster into the boards. Webster had to be helped from the ice, although she would later return to the game. Lamoureux received a five-minute major and a game misconduct, and her day was done.
“I think that helped us build up more momentum, just knowing that one of their star players is out of the game for doing something stupid,” Restuccia said.
“In the second period when we got that five-minute major, we looked up and the shots were 21-9, and we were in control,” Frost said.
That control quickly lessened. Minnesota weathered the initial five-on-three disadvantage, but Restuccia found the back of the net once more while the five-on-four power play continued. Assisting her were Kelli Stack and Schaus; rare is the hockey game where both goaltenders get into the scoring column.
When the Gophers were assessed another penalty and went two skaters down once more, Grogan helped her team in a more conventional way, stopping a number of quality scoring chances as the Eagles put 11 power play shots on goal in the period.
“We have in my opinion one of the best goaltenders behind us, so I was confident in her, and she did a phenomenal job stopping those pucks; I don’t know how she stopped them,” Marvin said. “She’s done that all year for us.”
“Our ‘D’ did a really good job of keeping the shots from the outside and picking up the sticks in front,” Grogan said. “They made my job a lot easier than it could have been, certainly. I had my rabbit’s foot in my pocket on a few of them.”
The rabbit’s foot failed her once more in the third, and Meghan Fardelman redirected a Stack shot into the goal and Boston College was back in the game at 4-3 with nearly 15 minutes remaining.
“Being down 4-1, it’s not easy to come back, and I thought we did an unbelievable job of battling back and making it a really good game,” King said. “I’m really proud of our kids.”
The situation grew tenser when the Eagles replaced Schaus for an extra skater with just under two minutes to go. Although they pressed hard, the all-important fourth goal eluded them due to the efforts of Grogan and the Minnesota defense.
“She did very well,” Stack said. “For being a freshman, she handled the pressure very well. I guess just got to keep the shots low on her; put in the rebounds.”
“[Jen Schoullis] was down there, I think she got two of them with her head,” Grogan said. “[West] got a stick across the throat. They were going to win that game no matter what it took, and I think it showed. I think they probably blocked more shots than I saw in the last flurry, so credit a lot of the finish to them and everyone else on the ice doing their jobs.”
Though their season ends, the BC players earned the admiration of their coach.
“I’m extremely impressed with all our kids from number one to number 21,” King said. “They did an amazing job.”
Her opposite number was equally proud.
“I think the kids kind of took initially what might have been, ‘Oh gee, we are letting this slip away.’ Nobody said that, but it kind of looked like we were thinking that, and they just turned the switch and said let’s go out and win ourselves a hockey game,” Frost said.
If Minnesota won in large part due to their early offense, they did so in equal measure thanks to their defense down the stretch.
“Taking pucks and sticks and sacrificing their bodies just to win that game, and that’s how important it was to these guys. There is no doubt we have warriors on our team, and that’s what I love about our club.
“We’re ecstatic that we’re heading to Boston and helping to represent the WCHA. “Our season is still alive, so we’re very happy about that, and look forward to playing Mercyhurst on Friday.”